After reading J.M. Hirsch's book recommendations for holiday gifting, I need to add one more to the list: "The Art of French Pastry" by Jacquy Pfeiffer.
The much-anticipated book by Pfeiffer, co-founder of the renowned French Pastry School in Chicago and star of the documentary "Kings of Pastry," brings together a lifetime of experience (his parents ran a bakery in France's Alsace region) with painstakingly exact recipes and thoughtful instruction.
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As much of a stickler as Pfeiffer is about weighing ingredients for consistency, he includes measuring cup conversions for stubborn American home bakers without digital scales. (Thank you!)
The book starts off with a rundown of essential ingredients and equipment and moves into fundamentals like making brioche and piping pate a choux (the ethereal dough used to craft éclairs). Each recipe includes an equipment list and illustrations that guide bakers to success. Pfeiffer will demonstrate his recipe for macaroons and share samples at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, at the Vernon Area Public Library. Copies of the cookbook will be available for purchase and signing at the event, courtesy of the Lake Forest Book Store. This event is free, but registration is required at http://bit.ly/pastrychef, (224) 543-1485, or at the library, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire.
Pumped up for pomegranates: I love this month because produce departments are overflowing with pomegranates. I love to peel them and pop the juicy arils into my mouth, smash them into juice for a bubbly cocktail or toss them into salads.
Here's a new recipe I came across from Dana Jacobi with the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Pomegranate Salsa: In bowl, use fork to combine 1 cup pomegranate arils, half a finely chopped nectarine (or peach or Fuji apple), 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion, 2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeño (optional), 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses or juice, ¼ teaspoon salt and three to four grinds pepper. Mix in ¼ cup chopped cilantro. Let salsa sit for 10 minutes so flavors can meld. Serve as accompaniment with chicken, turkey, pork chops or grilled shrimp.
You can also sprinkle the salsa over a green salad, stir it into cooked quinoa or add a spoonful as a garnish to a bowl of butternut squash soup. The recipe makes about 11⁄3 cups and can be kept for two days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.
Top tables: If your holiday entertaining or gifting includes restaurant meals, take note. Zagat.com recently released its 2014 America's Top Restaurants Survey and a handful of Chicago spots made the cut.
Katsu, a Japanese favorite on Chicago's Northwest side, took Top Food honors in a surprise win. Following close behind are Vie in Western Springs and Grant Achatz's Next that barely edged out its older sibling Alinea, which comes in fourth.
The survey covers 1,478 of the nation's top-rated restaurants in 36 major cities based on ratings and reviews from over 224,000 avid diners.
Here are some other dining stats the survey found:
• Chicagoans eat out less than the national average and also spend less than the national average per meal.
• When it comes to tipping, Chicagoans are generous -- leaving an average 19.1 percent gratuity.
• Loud, noisy rooms are Chicago diners biggest pet peeve.
Holiday hop-enings: John Holl, author of "The American Craft Beer Cookbook," returns to town Saturday, Dec. 14, to talk about the country's beer renaissance.
"It's been 40 years since the first post-prohibition microbrewery opened in the United States, but craft beer is only now hitting its stride," Holl says. "There are now more than 2,300 small breweries opening in the country, and they are producing some of the most flavorful and innovative brews that have ever been created."
Holl's presentation will explore the flavors of beer, how to properly taste it and why beer matters. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing by the author.
His talk, sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Chicago, runs 10 a.m. to noon at Kendall College, School of Culinary Arts, 900 N. North Branch St., Chicago. Cost of the lecture program is $5, $3 for students and no charge for CHC members and Kendall students. Parking is free.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at email@example.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/DebPankey/DailyHerald or follow her on Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter @PankeysPlate.